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B.J.

Habibie, in full Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie (born June 25, 1936, Parepare,
Indonesia) Indonesian aircraft engineer and politician who was president of
Indonesia (199899) and a leader in the countrys technological and economic
development in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Brilliant in science and mathematics from childhood, Habibie received his


postsecondary education at the Bandung Institute of Technology in Bandung,
Indonesia, and furthered his studies at the Institute of Technology of North Rhine
Westphalia in Aachen, West Germany. After graduating in 1960, he remained in
West Germany as an aeronautics researcher and production supervisor.
Suharto took power as Indonesias second president in 1966, and in 1974 he asked
Habibiewhom he had known for 25 yearsto return to the country to help build
advanced industries. Suharto assured him that he could do whatever was needed to
accomplish that goal. Initially assigned to the state oil company, Pertamina, Habibie
became a government adviser and chief of a new aerospace company in 1976. Two
years later he became research minister and head of the Agency for Technology
Evaluation and Application. In these roles he oversaw a number of ventures
involving the production and transportation of heavy machinery, steel, electronics
and telecommunications equipment, and arms and ammunition.

Habibie believed his enterprises ultimately would spawn high-tech ventures in the
private sector and allow the country to climb the technology ladder. In 1993 he
unveiled the first Indonesian-developed plane, which he helped design, and in the
following year he launched a plan to refurbish more than three dozen vessels
bought from the former East German navy at his initiative. The Finance Ministry
balked at the cost of the latter endeavour, while the armed forces thought that its
turf had been violated. Nevertheless, Habibie got more than $400 million for
refurbishing.

Meanwhile, in 1990 Habibie was appointed head of the Indonesian Muslim


Intellectuals Association, and during the 1993 central-board elections of the
countrys ruling party, Golkar, Habibie helped the children and allies of President
Suharto rise to top positions, easing out long-standing military-backed power
brokers. By the late 1990s Habibie was viewed as one of several possible successors
to the aging Suharto.

In March 1998 Suharto appointed Habibie to the vice presidency, and two months
later, in the wake of large-scale violence in Jakarta, Suharto announced his
resignation. Thrust unexpectedly into the countrys top position, Habibie
immediately began to implement major reforms. He appointed a new cabinet; fired
Suhartos eldest daughter as social affairs minister as well as his longtime friend as
trade and industry minister; named a committee to draft less-restrictive political
laws; allowed a free press; arranged for free parliamentary and presidential
elections the following year; and agreed to presidential term limits (two five-year
terms). He also granted amnesty to more than 100 political prisoners.

In 1999 Habibie announced that East Timor, a former Portuguese colony that had
been invaded by Indonesia in 1975, could choose between special autonomy and
independence; the territory chose independence. Indonesia held free general
elections (the first since 1955) in June, as promised. Later that year Habibie ran for
president, but he withdrew his candidacy shortly before the October election, which
was won by Abdurrahman Wahid. After Wahid took office, Habibie essentially
stepped out of politics, although in 2000 he established the Habibie Center, a
political research institute.